GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and his campaign officials have been scrambling since the tape of Trump bragging about kissing and groping women without their permission hit the presses on Friday — leading his polling numbers to drop and some prominent Republicans to abandon him.
In the tape, Trump uses extremely crass language and brags that as a star he “can do anything,” including grabbing women by their genitals and just starting to kiss them without their consent. “I don’t even wait,” he said.
What Trump is bragging about here falls under the definition of sexual assault laid out by the Justice Department. Nonetheless, many of his supporters and surrogates are stepping in to defend their candidate — using a rash of creative excuses that normalize and minimize sexual assault.
Hillary Clinton is being hypocritical because she likes Beyonce
In a particularly bizarre pivot, Trump surrogates are attempting to change the subject from their candidate and cast blame on popular music.
During an appearance on CNN, former New York Lt. Governor Betsy McCaughey (R) tried to argue that Hillary Clinton is being hypocritical because she likes Beyonce, quoting lyrics from Beyonce’s recent widely-acclaimed video album Lemonade.
“‘I came to slay, bitch. When he f-ed me good I take his ass to Red Lobster.’ That happens to be from Beyoncé, her favorite performer. Whom she says she idolizes and would like to imitate. There’s a lot of hypocrisy, in Hillary Clinton expressing such horror at language on the bus.”
McCaughey also attacked “rap music” in general because “it’s full of the f-word, the p-word, the b-word, the a-word.”
“I don’t think anybody likes that but those people are not running for president,” Don Lemon responded.
Trump surrogate Katrina Pierson used a similar line of attack, saying it’s “rich” for Democrats to talk about rape culture because they’re “backed fully by Hollywood,” adding that rape culture is promoted by “none other than hip hop music.”
Trump surrogates going all in on "but rap lyrics tho" defense pic.twitter.com/GNViErCcni
— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) October 11, 2016
Groping women without their consent doesn’t “count” as sexual assault
In an attempt to brush aside questions about the contents of the tape, Trump and several of his surrogates have revealed they don’t actually understand what sexual assault is.
During Sunday night’s presidential debate, Anderson Cooper asked Trump point-blank if he understood that what he had bragged about on the tape — kissing women and grabbing their genitals without permission — constituted sexual assault. Trump pivoted away and denied it.
In an interview Sunday night regarding Trump’s comments on the tape, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) told The Weekly Standard, “I don’t characterize that as sexual assault. I think that’s a stretch. I don’t know what he meant.”
When the interviewer followed up to ask Sessions if he thought that grabbing a woman by her genitals was sexual assault, Sessions replied, “I don’t know. It’s not clear that he — how that would occur.”
On Sunday, also to The Weekly Standard, RNC spokesman Sean Spicer responded, “I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer,” when asked if the tapes describe sexual assault. He later attempted to deny saying that — despite the fact that he was recorded on tape by multiple reporters.
And, while making the rounds of the Sunday shows before the debate, Rudy Giuliani, in response to direct questions in three separate interviews (from CNN’s Jake Tapper, ABC’s George Stephonopoulos, and CBS’s John Dickerson) about how he could defend Trump’s casual speech about “sexual assault,” Giuliani repeatedly characterized the remarks as “sin” for which he insisted Trump had apologized for and should be forgiven.
For the record, the U.S. Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”
It’s just harmless “locker-room talk” between men
One of the Trump campaign’s most widely used talking points on the issue is that his comments weren’t serious because they were just “locker room talk” — implying that casually riffing about sexual assault is some sort of harmless, jocular manly ritual that normal men engage with in male-only spaces.
Multiple surrogates have doubled down on this line of argument. On MSNBC, former Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) said it was just “bad boy talk.” The co-chair of Trump’s campaign in New York, Carl Paladino, said Trump’s comments were “gutter talk,” something “all men do, at least all normal men.”
On Monday, Eric Trump defended his father’s comments by saying that he was just being an “alpha” — “sometimes that’s what happens when alpha personalities are in the same presence.”
And, on CNN, Ben Carson said that maybe the problem was that people weren’t more accustomed to similar lewd bragging, and that it was common.
“As I was growing up, people were always talking about their sexual conquests, and trying to appear like Don — you know, Casanova. I’m surprised you haven’t heard that, I really am.”
Host Brianna Keilar then responded that she and a lot of people hadn’t heard that kind of talk.
“Maybe that’s the problem,” Carson replied, repeating it three times.
— Andrew Kirell (@AndrewKirell) October 11, 2016
Pat Robertson, who hosts The 700 Club on the Christian Broadcasting Network (syndicated on major cable channels), took this “men will be men” excuse a step further on Monday, when he said that Trump was just trying “to look like he’s macho.”
This implies that bragging about groping women is a positive way for men to elevate themselves —normalizing a criminal activity by suggesting it’s something that all men brag about with their friends.
The “locker-room” narrative also inherently links sports and sexual assault. Over the past several days, many athletes have spoken up to say that they’ve never heard that kind of talk in their locker rooms and don’t endorse it.
As an athlete, I've been in locker rooms my entire adult life and uh, that's not locker room talk.
— Sean Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) October 10, 2016
I'm offended as an athlete that @realDonaldTrump keeps using this "locker room talk" as an excuse.
— Robbie Rogers (@robbierogers) October 10, 2016
PSA: sexual advances without consent is NOT locker room talk.
— Kendall Marshall (@KButter5) October 10, 2016
Claiming Trump's comments are "locker room banter" is to suggest they are somehow acceptable. They aren't.
— Dahntay (@dahntay1) October 9, 2016
It doesn’t matter what Trump said because Bill Clinton had affairs
One of the Trump campaign’s main strategies to attempt to deflect the scandal is to point to former President Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions.
Before the most recent presidential debate on Sunday, Trump held a press conference with women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual abuse, calling it his “debate preparations.” And in an interview on CNN on Monday, Trump’s running-mate Mike Pence attempted to pivot away from Trump to focus on the “extraordinary avalanche of scandals” from 20 years ago — when Bill Clinton was embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
At a rally on Monday, Trump seemed to imply he’s happy to continue to double down on attacking Bill. “If they want to release more tapes saying inappropriate things, we’ll continue to talk about Bill and Hillary Clinton doing inappropriate things,” Trump said.
In an even more bizarre take, on Fox News Tuesday morning Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said that Trump made the comments because at the time, he was friends with Bill Clinton.
“Trump has said some things that are very vile back when he was supporting people like Bill Clinton,” Gohmert theorized. “But if you’re Bill Clinton’s big buddy like he was at one time, you’re going to talk like Bill Clinton. And I think we need to forgive him for talking like big Democrats like Clinton and other foulmouthed people.” Gohmert’s claim is uncorroborated.
In a similar vein, Washington State Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Hutchison argued that Trump’s comments shouldn’t matter now because they “were made when he was a Democrat.”
Nobody else’s actions or words excuse or mitigate Donald Trump’s. Furthermore, Bill Clinton is not currently running for president.
Describing committing sexual assault is just harmless words
During Sunday’s debate, Trump said that his comments were “just words,” which supposedly makes them okay. “If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse. Mine were words and his was action,” Trump said in the debate.
While Trump denies that he actually assaulted women, as he brags about on the tape, multiple women have accused him of sexual assault. Temple Taggert, a former Miss Utah, describes Trump behaving exactly as he described when she was participating in the Miss USA pageant in 1997.
He kissed me directly on the lips. I thought, “Oh my God, gross.” He was married to Marla Maples at the time. I think there were a few other girls that he kissed on the mouth. I was like “Wow, that’s inappropriate.”
An anonymous woman told CNN anchor Erin Burnett described a similar encounter in a boardroom in Trump tower, where Trump tried to kiss her without permission.
In 1997, Trump was sued for sexual harassment by Jill Harth, a business associate. Earlier this year, a federal lawsuit filed by a Jane Doe alleges that Trump raped her when she was 13. A conference on that lawsuit won’t be held until December, and her allegations currently unverified.
This post has been updated with comments from Ben Carson and Eric Trump.